Cover image for The making of African America : the four great migrations
The making of African America : the four great migrations
Publication Information:
New York : Viking, 2010.
Physical Description:
304 p. ; 24 cm.
Movement and place in the African American past -- Transatlantic passage -- Passage to the interior -- Passage to the North -- Global passages.
Four great migrations defined the history of black people in America: the violent removal of Africans to the east coast of North America known as the Middle Passage; the relocation of one million slaves to the interior of the antebellum South; the movement of six million blacks to the industrial cities of the north and west a century later; and, since the late 1960s, the arrival of black immigrants from Africa, the Americas, and Europe. These epic migrations have made and remade African American life.


Material Type
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Book 973.0496 BER 1 1
Book 973.0496 BER 1 1
Book 973.0496 BER 1 1

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A leading historian offers a sweeping new account of the African American experience over four centuries

Four great migrations defined the history of black people in America: the violent removal of Africans to the east coast of North America known as the Middle Passage; the relocation of one million slaves to the interior of the antebellum South; the movement of more than six million blacks to the industrial cities of the north and west a century later; and since the late 1960s, the arrival of black immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, South America, and Europe. These epic migra­tions have made and remade African American life.

Ira Berlin's magisterial new account of these passages evokes both the terrible price and the moving triumphs of a people forcibly and then willingly migrating to America. In effect, Berlin rewrites the master narrative of African America, challenging the traditional presentation of a linear path of progress. He finds instead a dynamic of change in which eras of deep rootedness alternate with eras of massive move­ment, tradition giving way to innovation. The culture of black America is constantly evolving, affected by (and affecting) places as far away from one another as Biloxi, Chicago, Kingston, and Lagos. Certain to gar­ner widespread media attention, The Making of African America is a bold new account of a long and crucial chapter of American history.

Author Notes

Ira Berlin was born in New York City on May 27, 1941. He received a bachelor of science degree in chemistry in 1963, a master's degree in history in 1966, and a Ph.D. in history in 1970, all from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle and Federal City College in Washington before becoming a professor at the University of Maryland in 1974.

He wrote numerous books including Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America, and The Long Emancipation: The Demise of Slavery in the United States. He also edited several books including Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation with Marc Favreau and Steven F. Miller. He died from complications of multiple myeloma on June 5, 2018 at the age of 77.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Berlin (Many Thousands Gone) offers a fresh reading of American history through the prism of the "great migrations that made and remade African and African American life." The first was "the forcible deportation" of Africans to North America" in the 17th and 18th centuries, followed by their "forced transfer" into the American interior during the 19th century. Then came the migration of the mid-20th century as African-Americans fled the South for the urban North, and the arrival of continental Africans and people of African descent from the Caribbean during the latter part of the 20th century. Berlin sees migration and the reshaping of communities to their new environments as central to the African-American experience. Movement is a matter of numbers, and Berlin provides them in detail kept fully readable by his attention to the cultural products of the shifts. In particular, he follows the church as it moves, the music as it takes on new themes, and kinship as it broadens. Berlin's careful scholarship is evidenced in his rich notes; the ordinary reader will be pleased by the fluidity and clarity of his prose. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Slavery, migration, and, more recently, immigration all constitute the making of African Americans, a history older and far more complex than that of most other Americans. Historian Berlin explores the four great migrations that have produced the distinct culture of African Americans: the transatlantic slave trade; the migration of African slaves from the Atlantic coast inland to southern plantations; the great migration from the rural South to the urban North, particularly during World War II; and the latest movement in the diaspora, the immigration to the U.S. of people of African descent from Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe. Berlin analyzes the movements, the dynamics of changes in customs and mores, as well as the sense of place developed by African Americans as they adjusted to each migration, voluntary and involuntary. He explores the changes in culture, music, politics, social institutions, and economics that defined each movement and redefined African Americans. Berlin also explores the latest migration, tensions, and feelings of kinship between native-born African Americans and newcomers, and the ultimate impact on perceptions of what it means to be black in America.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2010 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

Heading north, July 1940. MY parents bought their first house in 1960, six years after emigrating from Ireland. They'd grown up with a fierce sense of place - of land, family, history - and they were determined to recreate that sense for their children. That little house in the middle of a nondescript block on Detroit's East Side was going to be their home forever. It didn't work out that way. Io the early 1970s the first African-American couple moved into the neighborhood. They were young teachers, I think, though I don't remember that anyone asked them. Immediately the "for sale" signs began to appear, one or two at first, then more and more until the panic was complete. Within a year or so whites were selling their homes for whatever they could get, running for the suburbs as fast as they could. My parents waited awhile before joining the rush. They sold their house in 1977, their cherished sense of place swept aside by the terrible power of race. I kept thinking of them as I read Ira Berlin's majestic new history, "The Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations." Over the course of his distinguished career teaching history at the University of Maryland, Berlin has redefined our understanding of American slavery. In this relatively thin book he goes a step further. It's time, he says, to reconceptualize the entire African-American experience from the 1600s to the present - to set aside the long dominant "slavery to freedom" narrative, the story of a people moving slowly but inexorably toward equality, and to put in its place what Berlin calls a "contrapuntal narrative" of "movement and place, fluidity and fixity," the story of a people uprooted and searching for home. Berlin builds this new narrative around four massive migrations: the horrific transAtlantic passage that brought slavery to North America in the 17th and 18th centuries; the forced movement of a million slaves from the East Coast to the inland South's cotton kingdom in the early 1800s; the Great Migration of six million African-Americans from the South to the urban North in the first half of the 20th century; and the current influx of immigrants from Africa, South America and the Caribbean, a movement so large that in the last decade of the 20th century it accounted for a quarter of black America's population growth. Each of the migrations followed a similar pattern, Berlin says. They were triggered by the inexorable demand for labor: planters needed slaves to work their fields; Northern factories needed men and women to work the machines; today, the tors, domestics and software engineers. The movements shattered longstanding relationships and traditional patterns of behavior, often violently, sometimes under the sheer weight of distance. But African-Americans gradually claimed the new ground as their own, building on it new families, new churches, new forms of artistic expression, even new identities. This process of reconstruction, in turn, fostered an intense attachment to the places they had remade. After Emancipation, Northern officials were surprised to see that most freedmen didn't move far from where they'd been enslaved. But as one group of African-Americans explained, they weren't about to leave "land they had laid their fathers' bones upon." Berlin readily admits that by stressing the interplay of movement and place, destruction and restoration, he's putting African-American history within the broader story of American immigration. The labor market dictated the movement of Poles, Italians, Mexicans and Filipinos as much as it did for Africans and their descendants; even those fleeing persecution or famine wouldn't have come to the United States if they didn't think they could find work. These newcomers invariably felt the old ways slipping away from them, though sometimes they were happy to let them go. Most immigrants eventually managed to construct new lives, drawing on, and different from, the ones they left behind. And they often clung tenaciously to whatever fragment of America they'd claimed for themselves. In 1862 a Union officer marching through the South claimed that blacks were "more attached to familiar places" than any other people in the nation. Maybe he was right. Or maybe he'd never been to South Boston. But Berlin also insists that the African-American experience was fundamentally different from that of other immigrant groups. It's not simply that their migration was forced rather than free. As Berlin rightly points out, immigration can't be categorized so simply: Jewish families driven from home by czarist pogroms had not become immigrants by choice. What sets the African-American story apart is the terrible strain of oppression than runs through it. Other groups suffered from discrimination, of course. But nothing comes close to matching the ferocity of racism. In the book's most moving section, Berlin brilliantly evokes the horrors of the Middle Passage: the shackles, the branding irons, the decks choked with the smell of urine, feces and fear. He shows us how slavery's inland march tore black families apart, and he forces us to feel the inconsolable grief of separation. He follows the rise of systematic segregation in the late-19th-century South as it strangled the promise of independence and equality that Emancipation had created. He traces - too quickly - the creation of a segregated North in the first few decades of the 20th century: the way that employers pushed African-American workers into the lowest-paying, most dangerous jobs they had to offer; the way that real estate agents, bankers, insurance agents and white homeowners restricted black migrants to the most dilapidated neighborhoods, hemming them into ghettos many of them would never escape. And he touches on, though doesn't detail, the profound inequalities that continue to plague African-American communities - poverty, segregation, incarceration - despite the obvious triumphs of the last 40 years. Here, then, is the other piece of Berlin's contrapuntal narrative: the interweaving of African-American assertion and racist reaction, the making and remaking of America's relentless racial system. Not that Berlin sees victimization as the main theme of black history. "The Making of African America" is primarily a story of the resilience, creativity and courage African-Americans drew upon as they engaged in the difficult process of piecing together new lives in an unfamiliar land. That's my parents' story too. And more than likely, it was the story of that young black couple that moved in down the block: ordinary people looking for a decent house, a measure of security, a piece of land no matter how small, a home of their own. People like us - except for the color of their skin. And as this brilliant book shows again and again, that made all the difference. After Emancipation, officials were surprised to see that most freedmen stayed close to where they'd been enslaved. Kevin Boyle teaches history at Ohio State University. He is the author of "Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age."

Kirkus Review

A succinct study of how the migrations of African Americans, from the slavery era to the present, affected the development of black culture in America. Berlin (History/Univ. of Maryland; Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves, 2003, etc.) analyzes what he calls the four great migrations: the transatlantic slave trade from Africa; the transcontinental slave trade within the United States; the movement of former slaves from the South to the North and West after the Civil War; and the wave of black immigration from the Caribbean, Africa, South America and elsewhere. He makes the case that all this movementthe cycle of being uprooted again and againis what distinguishes the African-American experience from those of other immigrant American cultures. The repeated migrations, he argues, helped solidify the creation of African-American culture. The bond between people, created by common experience, became as important as the bond to specific places. Along with migration, Berlin also discusses the importance of rootedness in African-American life. For example, after blacks became a key part of urban society, the stability of staying in one place allowed distinct aspects of modern American black culture to emergeincluding arts such as gospel and jazz and political movements such as black nationalism. In the most engaging section, the author addresses the massive post-1965 influx of black immigrants and how they and American blacks have adjusted to each others' ways. The differences in language, and prejudices on both sides, have often made that adjustment difficult. Despite the culture clash, however, black immigrants have also made crucial contributions to African-American culture. For example, Berlin notes, many early hip-hop artists were of Caribbean descent. An insightful meditation on the physical and cultural journeys of African-Americans in the United States. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

The act of moving has added dimension to African American life, argues Berlin (history, Univ. of Maryland; Generations of Captivity). The experience began with the more than ten million shipped from Africa in the transatlantic slave trade. It continued with passage from Atlantic coastal communities to what became the Deep South. Next came the so-called Great Migration from South to North, which included movement from countryside to city. And now a global passage, explains Berlin, is reshaping a firmly entrenched urban African American population, with an influx of blacks from the Caribbean and Africa since the late 1960s. Migrations continue to remake black life, as they continue to remake American life; they create new histories and new realities, Berlin suggests. Others, notably historian Colin A. Palmer, have pursued similar themes of black passages but not so comprehensively in the broad sweep of place and space. VERDICT Berlin's neat synthesis offers the sharp insights and provocative commentary of one of the foremost historians of black America. Essential for library collections, general readers, and scholars of African American history. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/09.]-Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prologuep. 1
Chapter 1 Movement and Place in the African American Pastp. 14
Chapter 2 The Transatlantic Passagep. 49
Chapter 3 The Passage to the Interiorp. 99
Chapter 4 The Passage to the Northp. 152
Chapter 5 Global Passagesp. 201
Epiloguep. 230
Acknowledgmentsp. 241
Notesp. 245
Indexp. 289